The Spinster's Christmas, but after I posted it all, I took down from my blog all but the first 3 chapters. It is the first book in my Lady Wynwood series.
A Regency romantic mystery
Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.
Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.
However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …
And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
Genesis 16:13 (KJV)
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:7 (KJV)
To my readers: My prayer for you is that you will know that God sees you and that you fully understand how much He loves you.
Dorsetshire, England, December 23rd, 1810
“I am heartily sick of your complaining and moaning, you old woman,” Lady Wynwood told her companion, who was lounging on the seat across from her in her travelling coach.
The “old woman” was in actuality a fit man in his fourth decade, with a rugged face and an easy smile hovering on the edges of his mouth. His jaw might not be as firm as it had been twenty years ago, but he was still the handsome buck Laura had first met during her debut in London, and he knew it, too.
“Reduced to name-calling, Laura?” Solomon Drydale drawled.
“Would you rather I simply opened this coach door and booted you out of it?”
He grinned impudently at her in reply.
“You made the decision to ride inside the coach rather than alongside it on your horse,” she continued. “Therefore, I do not wish to hear another groan about the springs of my axles or whatever it is that you call them. It is my coach, not yours.”
Sol held up his hands in surrender. “You are quite right. Forgive me.” He gave her that charming half-smile that never failed to soften the ire of the most peevish of dowagers.
Laura rolled her eyes.
The coach jolted again in the badly potted road. Laura set her teeth.
Sol groaned at the jolt. “How much farther to Wintrell Hall?” In response to her black look, he quickly added, “I am not complaining. It is a sincere question.”
“You have been to Wintrell Hall before.”
“It has been a year or two since I accompanied you to Sir Cecil’s home for Christmastide,” Sol said. “I am hardly required to remember the length of each stage of the journey.”
“We are nearly on Cecil’s lands,” Laura said.
“Good.” Sol settled deeper into the plush velvet seat. “Sir Cecil Belmoore may be an insufferable prig, but at least he is responsible enough to see to the upkeep of his roads.”
“Solomon Drydale,” Laura said in shocked accents. “Remember you are speaking of my cousin’s son.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, you like the man as little as I do.”
She gave a disgusted sound. “You are incorrigible.”
“Since when have you been too reticent to speak your mind with me?” he demanded. “It is only the two of us in this rattling—er, splendidly sprung coach.”
“I knew you were not overly fond of Sir Cecil, but I had no idea you disliked him so much. If such is the case, you could have chosen to spend the season with your own family,” she said pointedly.
Sol didn’t answer, but his face took on a grim cast.
Laura eyed him. “What unpleasantness are you avoiding in so cowardly a fashion?”
Her goad hit its mark. “It is hardly cowardly to wish to avoid the machinations of a desperate woman.”
She raised her eyebrows at him.
Sol sighed. “You are not the only one to have relations who wish to marry you off to their person of choice. In my case, my sister-in-law has hopes for her niece or cousin or some sort.”
Laura’s laugh hopefully hid the pang that squeezed her heart at his words. She oughtn’t to be surprised. Solomon Drydale was an eligible widower with a vast estate, and great-grandson to a viscount. “I would think you would be up to the tricks of a young girl.”
“She’s not young, she’s nearly thirty.”
“A veritable babe,” Laura said with narrowed eyes. She herself was now on the disagreeable side of forty.
Sol simply smiled at her. “Have no fear. You, my dear, are still as youthful as the day I met you in Green Park.”
He delivered his compliments with that quirk to his lips that made the dimple peek out from his left cheek. But she refused to count herself among the scores of other widows in London who were half in love with him. “Are you now a merchant trading in Spanish coin? You are not usually so flattering to me, Sol.”
“Not flattering, merely answering your question. Avoiding Miss Whatever-her-name is the reason I chose to spend Christmastide with you and your Belmoore relations. Our reasons are not so dissimilar.”
He was right. On Laura’s father’s side of the family, her cousin’s wife, Matilda, had a profligate brother with a penchant for gambling. Matilda had already attempted some rather devious plots to bring Laura into company with him, perhaps even to orchestrate a scandalous situation that would force Laura to marry the gambler. So Laura was avoiding her father’s relations this year in favour of the Belmoores, her mother’s side of the family.
“I do hope there are no Matildas among the family party,” Sol said. “Your late cousin was not clever enough to be so devious, so I am assuming his son, Sir Cecil, is the same.”
“Sol, you imp,” Laura admonished him. “You are trying to make me confess my family members’ faults, but the truth is that I like them a great deal.”
“I seem to recall your complaining to me about some rather priggish letters Sir Cecil sent to you regarding how you administered your fortune,” Sol said.
In other words, Sir Cecil had disliked the fact that Laura had control of her own money. Laura had ignored the letters. Sol had laughed at them, but he had no great regard for Sir Cecil, the present head of the Belmoore family.
“You like my cousin Edward,” she reminded him. “And I assure you that his sisters have much more countenance now than when you met them during their come-outs.” They now had children and even grandchildren. The thought of their families made her smile. She adored all the children who gathered for Christmas at Wintrell Hall and looked forward to the games and charades.
“Now what has brought that brightness to your lovely face?” Sol asked.
She hesitated, because she knew her answer would pain him. “I was thinking about the Christmas games. With the children.”
He smiled in response, although it did not reach his eyes. “That is because you are so competitive.”
“Now I know you are back to your normal self, because you are dishing up rude remarks once more,” she said.
“I must take heed of my tongue, lest I offend some matron and turn Christmastide into a theatrical tragedy.”
“I am not concerned about your tongue.”
“Are you not? And they being your family?”
“However much you play the churl with me, you would never forget yourself in company.”
“Now who’s dealing in Spanish coin?”
“However, you will be looking for any opportunity to goad me into saying something offensive,” Laura continued.
Sol grinned. “Because it is so much fun when you do.”
Laura glared. It had only been the once when she’d been indiscreet enough to say out loud that she thought Lady Adderly’s hat looked like a molting chicken. She said in a firm tone, “I wish for a happy, uneventful Christmastide this year.” Unspoken was her admonition, Behave, Sol.
“Yes, yes.” Sol grinned at her. “Completely uneventful, I assure you.”
Next blog post: Chapter one
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